BELOW THE LINE
By JOSE ABETO ZAIDE
A snack which won’t seem to go away is the biscuit “Filipinos.”
The Spanish biscuit first made headlines in 1999 when the Philippines pressed for the withdrawal of the brand. Philippine onion-skinned bureaucrats felt that the product was racist, especially since the product was promoted as “dark outside and white inside” – a dig at the Filipino aspiration to look Caucasian. (See the advent of several skin whiteners.)
The brand name “Filipinos” is a popular line of biscuit snacks made by Mondelez International produced and sold in France, Spain, Portugal and the Nordic countries under the Artiach logo under license to United Biscuits. In the Netherlands they are sold and produced locally under the Verkade label brand. They have drawn controversy for having the same name as the citizens the Philippines.
From our Philippine purists perspective, aside from the racial undertones, the biscuit may also be culpable for violating a Philippine trademark law, which proscribes against products using the name of a country or its nationals for brand name.
Predictably, in 1999 the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against the Spanish government, the European Commission and the then manufacturer Nabisco Iberia, over the use of the name “Filipinos” to market cookie and pretzel snacks. The word “Filipinos” principally and foremost refers to the people of the Philippines. The protest demanded that Nabisco cease selling the product until the brand name was changed.
The prime mover of this initial storm in a teacup, the former Filipino Congressman Heherson Alvarez, claimed that the name of the cookie was offensive due to the apparent reference to their color, “dark outside and white inside”. His resolution stated “These food items could be appropriately called by any other label, but the manufacturers have chosen our racial identity, and they are now making money out of these food items.” On August 26, 1999, former Philippine President Joseph Estrada followed suit, calling the brand “an insult.”
Au contraire, former Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon was of different mind. A Vienner habitude, he saw nothing wrong with the use of “Filipinos” as a brand name, saying the Austrians make no beef if that petite sausages are called “Vienna sausage.”
A kibbitzer added that residents of Berlin do not object to the reference of the Berliner pastry. Nor the Danes about the Danish Pastry. Or, (stretching the imagination), Cubans are not perturbed over the generic name for all cigars from that country.
However hard they tried, the Philippine demarche went for naught. The more extensive the publicity, the more the biscuit company continued to grow and sell the biscuit under the brand name, “Filipino.”
A neutral bystander tried to be helpful by suggesting that perhaps a happy compromise can be found – like making ‘Filipinos’ also in other chocolate variety, (in deference to our mestizos and chinoys?)
The two sides are worlds apart – between one side upholding proprietary rights to the name and the other side exploiting vested interests. The issue can only get hotter. The Philippine Protestations do not gain ground, and more so because publicity only adds to popularity leading to added sales of “Filipinos”. Perhaps it is time for cooler heads to intervene.
Enter Gary Lising, who weighed in to suggest a compromise with win-win potentials. Our funnyman suggests, (this time, in serious vein), that the Spanish product should be allowed to continue to sell the dark brown biscuits under the brand name “Filipinos”, PROVIDED THAT THE MANUFACTURERS INTRODUCE A NEW LINE OF BISCUITS DIPPED IN WHITE CHOCOLATE AND PROMOTE IT UNDER THE BRAND NAME, “FILIPINAS.”
If our bureaucrats would only listen, Gary thinks that he has a problem turned into opportunity. Gary drew this inspiration for the female form of the chocolate biscuit after waking up one morning with the realization that two Filipina beauty queens are recent Miss Universe title holders, Pia Wurzbach in 2016 and Catrina Gray in 2018.